The Fearful Mind 

Thoughts on the integral role of fear in human relationships.

Fear is something we associate with the reason for our failure or loss in our lives. It is somewhat true that if it wasn’t for fear, the human mind would have no hesitation to move forward. So wouldn’t a world without fear be the ideal world? I argue otherwise. It is fear that drives us, for if we do not fear, bravery is meaningless. Fear is what puts us in that critical condition where we can either choose to accept it or be defeated by it. 

In Mahabharata, the epic of ancient India, in the beginning of the decisive war when two armies, Pandavas and Kauravas stand facing each other on the battlefield, the great Pandava’s (the rightful rulers of the kingdom who fell victims to their deceitful cousins, the Kauravas) warrior Arjuna notices that he has to confront his own forefathers, teachers and cousins. His limbs fail, his mouth becomes dry and the bow slips from his hand. He finds the whole concept of war as opposed to righteousness—cruel. He prefers not to engage in war. He turns for advice to Krishna, his charioteer and a friend, philosopher and guide. 

Arjuna: “This can’t be righteousness. I see no sense in killing my own people. This is cruelty, not nobility. I would rather have peace than vengeance.“ 
Krishna: “Indeed it is a noble thought. But where does this nobility come from? Generosity or fear? Wisdom or ignorance? They abused your wife. They encroached upon your kingdom. Fight for justice, Arjuna! Suddenly, you are confronted by the enormity of the situation—the possibility of failure, the price of success, and you tremble. Your decision is based on a misreading of the situation. If you knew the world as it truly is, you would be in bliss even at this moment.” 

Further using all of his rightful wiles, Krishna convinces Arjuna that powers beyond his comprehension have put him in this position and given him a duty he must fulfill. He sings to Arjuna with joy and exuberance, telling him that mortal life is impermanent; death is nothing to fear, and the soul lives on and is reborn. Krishna explains that your ego constructs a measuring scale to evaluate a situation. This measuring scale determines your notions of fearful or comforting, painful or pleasurable, right or wrong. Changes in external states make your ego insecure, and thus Arjuna musters up all courage to engage into the war by conquering his emotionally paralyzed state. He understands his fears. He fights the war along with all Pandavas and wins it. 

Such is the nature of fear: psychological yet addressable. It possesses aesthetics, but it is not so pleasurable. I say aesthetics because fear has a smell and a texture, but we fear to smell it and to sense it. The human mind is not easily accessible even by your most loved ones. Living under one roof, it is not guaranteed that couples know each other well. A complete transparency is assumed in a relation when one doesn’t know himself or herself well enough. The reason behind this is our restless and fearful mind. 

I watched a play in which a happily married couple is the silent victim of the agitation and insecurities of a fearful mind. An ambitious male protagonist of this play figures out that his beautiful, intelligent wife is involved with some other person, and after great efforts he succeeds in making her confess. What follows later completely resonated with my personal thoughts. She confesses, “Yes, I was involved with him; we were together due to work. He easily read my mind often, our friendship grew stronger and that lead to the next inevitable step in our relation. But that doesn’t mean that I committed adultery. It wasn’t a guilt free pass I availed for myself. It was my inner need at that point of my life. This is in no way going to make a single crack in our relation. What happened was a totally different chapter of my individual life, and it is not going to change your place in my life.” 

Despite her confession, overwhelmed in despair he thinks of it as adultery and deceit. He fails to understand the very fact that insecurity and fear of losing her actually was leading him to losing her. He could have surely tried to console their relationship, try to make things puzzle back together, but in these days even the smallest shake is enough to break bonds. We seem to care less for forgiveness and more on the fault. This is all the product of our fear; we allow it to dictate our actions. How many times have we as friends or advisors consulted or recommended solutions? At the same time, the same solution we recommend would not be so easy for us to do if we were in their shoes. Fear is the missing ingredient, and such is the origin of fear: being insecure, being rejected, losing a possession or a loved one, being physically or mentally deprived. 

The fundamental misunderstanding underlying fear is that humans prefer luxury over pain. Humans actually find challenges exhilarating, yet evolution owes its existence to those who choose otherwise. A woman gives birth to a child in spite of knowing the pain behind it. A soldier continues to serve the country even though he knows he would die someday. A mountaineer climbs Everest even though he is aware of the hassles involved in it. People have intense urge to do something monumental, to conquer their own internal Everest. These people inspire us to think of the impossible and give us thriving strength to achieve it. Thus fear is always conquerable, it springs up at those moments of life that come to define us. Such is the nature of fear: conquerable so to those who do fear are given the choice to lead or be led. 

Ashwini Gavde